|POSTSCRIPTS – The Oracle at Delphi|
|Wednesday, September 1, 2010|
By CANDACE PARTEE
Last year when I heard of Delphi, Greece, I envisioned a small circular temple surrounded by tall white columns with graceful maidens dressed in drifts of white gauzy material lounging about. I recalled the Oracle at Delphi and that was about it. As they say today – NOT.
The remnants of that small temple remain, the maidens are long gone, but the Oracle? That is about a half mile away up the side of the hill in a hole! Public relations propaganda I suppose. The lovely little marble temple is the Marmaria and is the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia.
Delphi is the site of the omphalos or the navel of the earth. The legend is that Zeus, King of the Gods, released golden eagles from the two ends of the earth to meet at its center. They converged in Delphi and a stone that looks like the business end of a torpedo marks the spot. Actually it is a copy of the real one resting safely in a museum.
Near the omphalos is a hole covered with a marble slab and several steps leading down from two sides. Here is the spot archaeologists have surmised to be the source of the gases that supposedly emanated from a fissure causing the Oracle to see visions of the future. Believe me this was big business back in the day!
At the end of my trip to Greece, each of us had to tell of our favorite site. As did several others, I named Delphi. Actually a lot of the architecture there is Roman but it is rooted deep in Greek legend and history. In Greece it is hard to tell the difference.
As we meandered up the hill we passed the remains of many small buildings that had served as “treasuries” for various City States. The one for Athens has been restored and provides a taste of the beauty that would have greeted you on your walk around 2,000 years ago. It was an exquisite temple rendered in miniature. Citizens and City States that received the word of the Oracle would leave expensive gifts showing their gratitude to the Oracle and the treasuries were built to house these gifts.
There were also shops available to purchase said gifts or you could bring them from home.
From here you have a panoramic view of the entire Delphic landscape. The three-month-long Pythian Games (named for the snake that Apollo is supposed to have slain!) held at Delphi every four years (two years before and after the games at Olympia) began as a celebration and competition of music and drama in the theater but eventually encompassed athletic games such as those at Olympia. There were gymnasiums, indoor tracks, baths and other areas for training purposes and a sacred fountain called Kastalian Spring used for purification rites. Several of us had washed in the pure water and sipped a bit before our ascent.
As we admired the theater we were advised that the stadium, site of the races and other games, was at the top of the hill and if you felt you couldn’t make it we’d meet you later. I wanted to go – after all I had come this far – and off we went. Just as I felt my thighs rebelling we would have a brief flat area to revive.
It was well worth the climb and I am grateful I made it! It was a beautiful site situated among the trees at the top of the hill. Seating was provided for judges and dignitaries while observers spread a cloth on the hillsides to watch the events. There is a triumphal gate at the far end for the athletes’ procession onto the field. There are marble slabs across the track at each end that served as starting blocks with evenly spaced indentations for the runners’ feet. There is a fountain so they could refresh themselves.
It was quiet and peaceful and easy to close your eyes and envision the judges placing a wreath of bay laurel on the head of a winner in 582 BC.